The American Heart Association has become the first big health group to urge a specific limit on trans fats in the diet -- less than 1 percent of total calories -- in new guidelines released Monday.
Also for the first time, the organization's dietary guidelines include lifestyle recommendations, including an emphasis on getting exercise and not smoking.
A panel of specialists in nutrition and heart disease reviewed more than 90 studies to update the dietary advice the association released in 2000. The guidelines are for healthy Americans ages 2 and older.
Rather than slavishly counting calories and grams of fat, people should try something simpler: getting in the habit of cooking with healthier oils, and balancing calories consumed with calories burned through exercise, said Alice Lichtenstein, a Tufts University nutrition expert who chaired the guidelines panel.
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids such as partially hydrogenated oils, are in many cookies, crackers, breads, cakes, French fries and other fried foods. They contribute to heart disease risk by raising LDL, or the bad cholesterol.
Avoiding them and keeping a healthy diet is challenging while eating out as much as Americans do, panel members noted.
Last week, a consumer group sued KFC to try to get the company to stop frying its chicken in trans fats, and other fast-food chains have been pressured to lower such fats as well.
"Total fat reduction alone is not the only answer. It is important what kind of fat you eat," said Linda Van Horn, a Northwestern University dietitian who helped draft the guidelines.
Among the panel's other recommendations:
- Limiting saturated fats to no more than 7 percent of daily calories, down from the 10 percent formerly recommended and the 11 percent most Americans consume. Saturated fats are in meat and dairy products, and in coconut and palm oil.
- Getting at least half an hour of exercise a day.
- Eating fruits and vegetables (not fruit juices) that are deep in color, such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries.
- Choosing whole-grain, high-fiber foods.
- Eating fish, especially oily fish such as salmon and trout, at least twice a week. (Children and pregnant women should follow federal guidelines for avoiding mercury in fish.)
- Choosing lean meats and trying vegetable alternatives.
- Consuming fat-free and 1 percent fat milk and other dairy products.
- Minimizing calories from beverages and avoiding ones with added sugars.
- Adding little or no salt to foods.
- Drinking alcohol in moderation..